So you’ve got something heavy, but you don’t have any wall anchors. No problem!
The best way to hang things without a wall anchor is by securing the item to a stud. This can be as simple as driving a screw straight into the drywall and then into the stud, or a piece of wood can be mounted to span multiple studs.
There are a variety of ways to do this, so keep reading!
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Worthwhile Background Information
Behind the drywall, are a bunch of vertical pieces of wood. Those are called studs. They hold the drywall up (as well as support the weight of your house.)
I once cut a giant hole in my wall, and found this. The weird window shape is abnormal, but this picture should still give you an idea of what’s back there. Look at the bottom half for what’s in a normal wall:
(If you have plaster walls, it looks a bit different and you’ll want to use a different procedure, so go check out this post on hanging things from plaster walls.)
In modern homes studs are located 16″ apart, while in older homes studs are 24″ apart. If you can secure your items to these studs, it will be secure. Those studs aren’t coming down!
Everything except for option 1 (which is for super-light items only,) will require you find the location of the studs before starting.
If you have stud finder, awesome, use that! If not, go check out this post on how to find a stud without a stud finder before you start.
Option 1: Nail in Drywall
If you just need to hang something that only weights a pound or two, then a nail in the drywall might be enough.
Your item really does need to be light, though. Anything heavier than 1.5 pounds, and I’d start looking for another option.
But many, if not most things I want to hang on the wall hit this weight requirement. This scarf organizer, for example, is hung with two small finishing nails:
And small picture frames usually just need a nail.
Larger, heavier frames usually requirement something stronger, though!
Option 2: Screw in Stud
The easiest way to hang something heavy without a wall anchor is simply to hit a stud when you put in a screw.
I managed to do this when hanging a painting, although ironically, I didn’t realize I’d hit a stud until I was trying to stick a drywall anchor in and failing, hence the giant hole behind it.
In order to make this work, you’ll need a screw that’s at least 1 1/4″ long. This will be enough to get through 5/8″ of drywall, and then get 1/2″ of screw into the stud. 1″ screws will probably work if you’re in a pinch, but I always aim for 1 1/4″.
There’s one big problem with the “screw in stud” method, though: It requires your item to be centered on a stud. If that was where you were putting your item anyway, great. But how often does that happen?
This next option gives you a bit more flexibility.
Option 3: Make a Rail
If you’re able to hit two studs, you can make a rail with a piece of wood. Then you can secure your screw(s) anywhere along the rail, since the rail will hold the weight of the object, and that is secured to the studs.
The above photo is actually of a bunch of rails. I was doing something different here, but even one rail screwed in along the studs would be enough to hang heavy things off of.
To install the rail, cut a piece of scrap wood long enough to span two studs. Then secure it by driving a screw through the rail, into the drywall and then into the stud.
You’ll need a fairly long screw for this, since in addition to the drywall and stud, it needs to go through the rail as well. The exact length will depend on the thickness of your rail piece, but if you’re using a 3/4″ piece, you should aim for a 2″ long screw.
The downside of this method is that, unless you want your rail to be visible, the width of your item needs to span two studs. Alternatively, you can make the rail the entire width of the wall, and hang multiple things from it.
This is actually how Ikea’s upper cabinet system works. The rail spans the entire width of the cabinet, hitting multiple studs, then the cabinets are hung from the rail.
This was from my kitchen remodel a few years ago. Anywhere you can’t see a full circle is where there is a screw. Most of those go through studs, although there are a couple that go into wall anchors.
Older style homes sometimes have a picture rail system for hanging things. It’s a bit fancier with specialty molding, but it serves the same purpose.
I personally don’t have pictures, but here’s an image on Houzz if you want to see what it looks like. The white trim 20″ from the ceiling? That’s the picture rail.
Short of a visible rail, however, the rail system doesn’t really work if your item is less than 16″ wide (or it is 16″ wide, but the placement doesn’t work out to span two studs.)
In this situation, you could make a rail with one stud and a wall anchor. However, this article is about what to do if you don’t have a wall anchor, so…
I wouldn’t risk making a rail with just a stud and the drywall. If you’re not going to be able to span two studs, you’re better off going to the store and getting a wall anchor rather than take the risk.
Option 4: Make a Cleat System
This is a variation on Option 3. Instead of just making a wooden rail and sticking screws into it, you can bevel the rail:
This allows you to make a corresponding piece that goes on the item you’re trying to hang:
The two pieces lock together, and create a rock-solid hanging system.
This is about as sturdy of a system as you can make, however it requires more specialized tools and more work than the Option 3 rail.
I love it though, and think it looks great in my dining room:
Here, I opted to make a whole wall of slat rails that have the bevel, so I can hang things from any of the rails. You don’t need a whole wall to make it work, though, the system works even if you’ve only got one rail.
If you want to learn more about the slat wall, check out the Youtube video!
Given you can get a screw into a stud (or studs,) hanging things without a drywall anchor is easy. I love hanging rails, and I’m always excited when I’m able to hang directly onto a stud.
But if you can’t hit a stud, drywall anchors are still the way to go.
I have a whole post on picking a wall anchor, so go check it out if that’s the route you decide to go!